New fungal infection sparks concern in the US, targeting Northern Midwest and Southeast regions

Representation for Blastomycosis | Credits: Wikimedia Commons

United States: The experts are now worried about the emergence of a new fungal infection in some parts of the United States. A new research study has revealed that the infection will majorly target the northern Midwest and parts of the southeast.

The study was published recently on Wednesday.

The researchers have mentioned that exposure to the fungal infection can lead to blastomycosis, a respiratory infection resembling other illnesses and making it difficult to diagnose. The experts have further mentioned that if the disease goes undiagnosed for a longer period of time, it becomes more difficult to treat.

Details about the fungus and infection!

Blastomyces dermatitidis is the fungus that is responsible for causing the infection. Wet soil and decaying logs and leaves are the best places for the infection to grow and mutate, according to NBC News.

The researchers have underlined that blastomycosis is an ‘endemic mycosis’ – which states that the fungal disease is found in a particular region of the world. The infection is majorly found in the Great Lakes, the Ohio River valley as well as the Mississippi River valley. However, the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mentioned that the infection could also be seen in Vermont.

Visual Representation for fungal infection

Chair of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – Dr. Arturo Casadevall, stated, “Vermont is not generally an area you think of when you talk about blastomycosis. But there have been several papers recently suggesting that fungal infections are on the move across the country, and this is one of them,” according to NBC News.

The Medical Director for Vaccine-Preventable Disease Surveillance at the Chicago Department of Public Health – Dr Brain Borah, spearheaded the research study. In this regard, he mentioned, “It’s a big question whether we were able to detect cases that were unknown to us previously or if we are detecting an increase in cases.”

The epidemiology of the fungal disease has been changing with the passage of time; however, Borah stated, “I don’t think blastomycosis would be immune from those patterns.”

While addressing the general public about the new infection – Blastomycosis, the experts mentioned that the infection is rare and shows symptoms similar to other respiratory illnesses, including fever and body aches. The cases are mild, but if the cases are left untreated, then blastomycosis can become serious and can lead to death.

Casadevall further stated that “one of the great problems with fungal diseases is that they are unreportable.”

States leading health surveillance for blastomycosis!

The experts have suggested that only five (5) states have public health surveillance for blastomycosis. The five states are:

  • Arkansas,
  • Louisiana,
  • Michigan,
  • Minnesota and
  • Wisconsin.

The researchers have mentioned that, as of now, health experts are not sure about the prevalence of the infection across other states of the nation.

Borah, who used to work for the CDC and was assigned to the Vermont Department of Health, shared that there have been reports of blastomycosis cases in the Northeast. This information came from a couple of studies and stories from doctors and veterinarians in Vermont.

Since there wasn’t public surveillance data available, Borah and his team decided to check health insurance claims to find out how many people in Vermont were treated for blastomycosis from 2011 to 2020. They looked at claims from Medicare and Medicaid recipients and about 75% of Vermont residents with other health insurance.

They found 114 cases over the ten years, and 30% of these cases needed hospitalization. Vermont had a higher blastomycosis rate (1.8 cases per 100,000 people annually) than most states with surveillance, except for Wisconsin, which had the highest rate at 2.1 cases per 100,000 people.

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